our prayer word for the month of September which is just about to slip into
October. In his many beautiful words Thomas Merton once wrote,
“Some people never see a tree
they are ready to saw it down.”
You are a creature of wonder.
You are a poet. You are a poet
not because of what you write but because of how you see. Not everyone has discovered the hidden poet
in their souls. In the following reflection
I am offering you some images that will hopefully draw forth the poet in your
soul. Where do poems live?How well do you see?Bring forth your receiving eyes.Come forward with a seeing heart.Listen carefully, and you will hear a quiet
voice murmuring:May I have your
attention please?We will never be
people of wonder until we learn to pay attention.
I just turned the page of my 2014 calendar and drank in the new
word that is to be the theme for this month. My word to live for the
month of September is WONDER and I am in dire need of sitting in its
shade. But then I remembered that I hadn't written about my August word
yet so I turned the calendar back to August and gazed at the word SOLITUDE.
The picture for the month depicts my friend and sister in
community sitting in a lovely outdoor dwelling with a cup in her hand,
presumably coffee, and I ask myself, "does this really depict deep
solitude?" What would need to go to truly depict solitude? Probably
the cup and the caffeine! But let's not get hung up on semantics.
This is just my take one it.
Recently I saw a lovely outdoor scene with a woman lying on a
diving board reading a book. The caption was: SOLITUDE! I
found myself saying, “wrong!” Throw the book in the lake.
Get off the diving board.
So truly, what is solitude?
Are you afraid of it? Do you find
it healing? When you are in solitude, do
you look for distractions? Or, do you
slowly begin to taste the sweetness of solitude? I believe that can happen only after we learn
to be comfortable with the gift of stillness and silence. When I truly learn how to be alone by
choice—how to embrace solitude as friend, I slowly cease looking for
distractions. I learn to melt into being. I begin to be comfortable in being with the self that is me.
In looking at the word solitude I see a relation to the word
latitude. The sol of solitude suggests aloneness
which also points to space, the space around us and even within us. The word, latitude,
points to space: geographical space, universal space: the breadth, width, size of something. Why not personal space? Although I have not taken the time to look
this up entomologically I can see a kinship.
And so when I use St. Paul’s
beautiful words from Ephesians 3: 16-19
I find myself being moved into solitude.
The space around me seems to grow larger and I find myself move into a
The more I practice this kind of solitude alone, the more I will
discover that when I am with a group of people some of that space around me lingers and it is easier for
me to remain calm in troubling situations.
Out of his infinite glory,
may you be
given the power,
through his Spirit,
for your hidden self
to grow strong,
so that Christ may live in your hearts
through faith, and then,
planted in love and built on love,
with all the saints
have strength to grasp the
the height and the depth;
until knowing the love of Christ,
is beyond all knowledge,
you are filled with the utter fullness
Ephesians 3: 16-19—Jerusalem Translation
Find a space alone and ask yourself, What is the latitude of my heart!
...and I never got around to writing about my word for that month.
The word was MYSTERY!
My neglect in writing did not prevent me
from attempting to dwell in the heart of mystery.
July is my birth month.
Truly it was a mixture of birth/death, wounds/healing, doubt/faith,
hope/discouragement and more.
I've always loved mystery stories.
The greatest of all mysteries is the story of one’s life.
In this month of my birth I prayed with the mystery of my life.
The symbol I used for my prayer was a path, call it
what you will: a road, a trail, a track or footpath. The path I chose at the beginning of July was
one that led into a forest. It reminded
me of the path I used to take through the forest of our old homestead in Arkansas to my Aunt Annie’s
On a pathway there is mystery. You can’t always see what’s behind the next
tree. Nor can you detect the animal
sounds in the forest. Is it
friendly? Is it harmful? For some reason, in those young years of my
life, I was seldom afraid of the path through the woods. It was mysterious yet strangely known, kind
of like God.
As I moved into the month of July it occurred to me
that it might be fun to take a different path every few days and re-experience some
of the mystery stories of my life. There
the hillside trail leading from the valley
where I lived, up the hill and through the woods that led to St. Mary’s Church and School
the path around Lake Fort Smith that I miss now
that the new lake has been created
a path from the Quiet House at Laity Lodge
(Kerrville TX) to the upper rim of the canyon where I could watch sunrises and
an unforgettable green moss trail in the
Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina (Maggie Valley)
the winding labyrinth path on the grounds
of St. Scholastica Monastery, Fort Smith, Arkansas
the path through the vineyards of Altus, Arkansas that I traveled with my brother, praying the rosary, when my little sister was dying
the deer trail through the forest
surrounding San Damiano Retreat in Danville, CA
the little country roads where I could walk
through farmlands in Canterbury, NZ viewing the amazing pastures of sheep
the walking trail around St.Mary's Lake (Notre Dame campus) July of 1997 when I feared I might have cancer. I'll always recall those morning walks filled with both angst and therapeutic beauty
the forest trails at Jamberoo Abbey (New South Wales) quietly trekking through the woods at dusk looking for wombats. (never saw one)
and then there are those inner trails that run through the path of my heart and soul nudging me into creativity, exploration, continual growth. I am always tracking the mystery.
In between all the trails of my life I have never forgotten that Christ is my way!
Many paths of memory! Each path holds a mystery story of my life! I could pray a trail for the rest of my life and never be finished reading the pages of my life. I want to allow the holy-healing mystery of life to continue its journey flowing through me like a stream or bubbling brook. The quiet trails are like gentle streams. The rushing brook is full of obstacles and yet as the poet, Wendell Berry, explains, It's the obstacles that help make the music. I want my life to remain a song.
O Beautiful Mystery Where is the life that once held me in its sometimes gentle, sometimes terrible grasp? That life lives on; I am every age I've ever been! How easy it is to forget as I walk through the day that I carry within me layers of life, layers of ages. My life is a mystery story still unfolding It is a good life full of joys and sorrows, promises kept, promises broken memories and forgetfulness. O God of so much mystery Continue to dwell in the layers of my life. Be my way when I lose the way. May it come to pass!
I am in the
infirmary, an effort to take better care of my broken foot so it can heal. This infirmary room is slowly becoming a monk cell for me. I am a bit more confined and so I am less
tempted to pace. It has become a sacred space for healing I keep staring at
the helium balloon that hangs from my ceiling, “Get Well,” it says. It sounds like a very simple request, a kind
wish from a good friend. Little did she
realize what metaphysical ponderings this get-well-wish would work in me!
What does it
mean to get well? There are times when I
am not actually sick yet need to get well.
At the moment, yes, my foot needs to heal. However I can think of numerous ways I need
to get well.
my attitude limps and I start feeling sorry for myself I need to get well
I find myself complaining about every little thing, I need to get well
I get so busy I forget to take time for solitude and prayer, I need to get well
I let grudges reign in my heart, I need to get well
I find myself critical and impatient with others, I need to get well
I bring only half a heart to my daily living, I need to get well
I find myself disgustingly self-righteous, I need to get well
·When what I own becomes more important than the people I live with, I need
to get well
I spend more time judging others than affirming them I need to get well...
could go on and on. I could write until
tomorrow. I write these things not to be
overly critical of myself but rather as a gentle reminder that there are ways I
am not living up to my full potential. Since I would like to be the best version
of myself that I can be, these words are a way of prayer.
poet Rumi affirms our goodness when he says:
“If you knew yourself for even one moment! If you could glimpse your beautiful
soul! Maybe you wouldn't slumber so
deeply in that house of clay. Why not
move into your house of joy and shine into every crevice? You are a treasure; and always have
DIDN'T YOU KNOW?
same message St. Paul gives us in 1 Cor 3:16:
Do you not know that you are a temple of
and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
And so, all
of you beautiful (though sometimes weary) temples, I invite you to
The month of June comes upon us with the word compassion trailing along in its wake. The theme I've chosen for this
month is compassion. Everywhere I turn,
everywhere I look, I see opportunities for compassion. Right now I’m looking very close—as close as my
own foot. It’s this big black boot I have
to tote around with me. It’s the foot
inside that I am showering with compassion.
Poor innocent foot that suffered trauma in an unfortunate car accident!
So here I am unexpectedly slowed down with the same
amount of work to do. I, who, teach the
way of contemplation to others, find myself being invited to listen to my own
words. The turtle that sits beside my foot in the picture wasn't staged. It really is there--my night light inviting me to stop and rest. It has even greater meaning now.
Life will go on even if I have to cancel a few retreats. Life will go on even if I have change part of
my plans for vacation. (no hiking) Life
will go on if I can’t be at all community functions. At this moment I am called to care for my right foot…this
foot that I haven taken for granted, this foot that I have forgotten to be
(consciously) grateful for. Now I
totally understand St. Paul’s
lovely analogy of the physical body and the Body of Christ… (1Cor12:12-26) If the foot should say, “Because I am not a
hand I do not belong to the body, “would it not then belong to the body? “…if one member suffers, all the members
suffer with it.” HOW TRUE IT IS! When I take my boot off at night I am drawn
to pray with it, to thank it for the healing that is happening, to ask its
pardon for taking it for granted, to massage it gently and put lotion on
it. It is quite sacramental. I am being
drawn into compassionate presence. Although it is
unfortunate that something violent had to happen in order for compassionate
presence to come on stage, that is often the case in our lives. Sometimes we are jarred into reflection. I've been spending many moments in contemplation and
gratitude recently. Everything can
become a teacher if we open our hearts to what is in front of us.
As a child June was one of my favorite months, freed from
school I spent many hours with my feet in the waters of the creek that ran through our forest, catching crawdads, watching the minnows, listening to
life. And this banged up foot: it was young then but it was there---feeling the waters rush over it.
E is for ENTHUSIASM! That is the word I chose as my theme for the month of May. E is also for EARTH and that is the hermitage I stayed in for four days after leading a retreat near Philadelphia. Settling into my hermitage and into the solitude I had so longed for I was pleased to discover that I was in Hermitage E. E is also for eager, energy, ear, eye, ecstasy, express, elusive, enfold, enter, ethereal, and evening: all words I decided I would include, in some way, in my prayer.
E is for ENTHUSIASM. In my first prayer period I focused on the fact that enthusiasm means literally to be possessed by God. God-possession! To be zealous and inspired! To have passion for life! To be exuberant! Animated! Alive and Breathing! Moving with the life inside me! In the gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 2 Jesus proclaims: "I have come that you may have life and have it in abundance." Abundant Life, another lovely definition of enthusiasm.
Of course we don't always experience that flowing energy within. We don't necessarily wake up feeling enthusiastic and passionate about the new day. I wonder if our days might be different if upon rising we would sit down for a few moments, lay a hand on the heart, honoring the God who lives within. Spend a little time owning the Abundant Life given to us by the Source of all life. Each of us is able to decide who we are going to be in any given day.
E is for ENTHUSIASM! Somewhere inside you is a joy that is wanting to get out. Introduce it to the world. Let it show!
O Source of All Life, Is my abundant life that has come from you truly showing? Is it obvious to those with whom I live and work? Am I allowing it to be the radiant song of joy that you want to sing through me? Am I able to remember that every time I breathe, it is you I am breathing into our world? Does anyone suspect, when they see my enthusiasm for life, that it is because of You I exude this life? And if my answer to these questions is, "probably not," help me remember, there is always tomorrow. My life goes on into the eternal flow of You.
Surprises are endless so always be ready for your day to be interrupted with a surprise. When you open the door there is no telling what might greet you. It may be a piece of beauty that takes your breath away. It could, however, be a surprise of another kind. It could be the surprise of someone who needs help, or someone bearing a message of sorrow. This might require your presence, thus you could have the good fortune (that might not feel like good fortunate at the moment) of being a surprise for the the person at your door.
It could be the surprise of an unexpected car accident as I somehow celebrated this week. Having my foot elevated and surrounded by ice-packs was not on my agenda but finding myself still alive was an awesome surprise.
One of the best pieces of advice I have for us is a quote that I am trying to piece together from a Brazilian Archbishop whom some of you may remember from days gone by.
"Accept surprises that upset your plans, shatter your dreams, and give a completely different twist to your day, and ~~who knows?~~ to your life. It is not chance. Leave God free to weave the pattern of your days." -Dom Helder Camara
These words certainly echo an amazing piece of advice from our beloved Heni Nouwen,
"Turn your interruptions into opportunities."
Maybe Jesus didn't just call us to be DISCIPLES. Perhaps he also calls us to be SURPRISES.
Go on and pull open the curtain. I know you've seen hundreds of sunrises (or sunsets) but you never know what the next one will be like. It is always a surprise for the one who wears an open heart and can let go of the assumption that you know what is behind the curtain. I once called out to someone with a fair amount of excitement in my voice saying, "Quick, come look at the rising moon!" She answered, "I saw it last night." So did she really see it last night? I doubt it. She saw something in the sky, perhaps, but I doubt that it took hold of her in a healthy, healing kind of way if she wasn't willing to look again, to behold it anew.
The word, SURPRISE, has many meanings and my favorite meaning is, "TAKEN FROM ABOVE." You are so filled with amazement and delight that something above you, outside of you, beyond your power, takes hold of you. Something outside of yourself grasps you and invites you to be a seer. You are taken from above and given a new vision of one particular slice of life. A presence that you can't explain pulls back the curtain and some kind of revelation takes place.
By choice, and practice, we can live as though we are standing before what the Christian Celts call the thin places--those places that are so sacred, could you but draw the veil aside you would see the face of God. Perhaps every surprise is like that. Although it may happen quite naturally yet unexpectedly, you are invited with each surprise to be a seer.
It is not easy to be a seer. You have to surrender the lie that you don't have time. 'Looking' is not the same as 'seeing'. One early morning a few years ago I almost walked past a surprise. It was a moon flower just opening its face to the dawn. I looked at it and almost passed by. But suddenly I was taken from above. I paused and took it in. I became its tenant (though it paid no rent). I beheld it and offered it hospitality.
How easy it is to pass by a surprise because we think we've already seen it!
Most of all we ought to be careful lest we miss the surprise of one another. Every person is a jewel, a beauty never to be repeated. We think we know the person we are having coffee with but do we really? How do we open ourselves to the surprise of another person? April is almost over and I'm sure you had many surprises. Why not sit down and ponder a few of your surprises! Or, maybe even just the surprises of this day.
Here is a book about resilience. It is easy to find your life in these pages even though it is about Clarissa's uncle who, after being wounded and broken in spirit by war, returns to life through planting trees and gardening. In this lovely book, The Faithful Gardener, Clarissa Pinkola Estes says,
"Something is waiting
for you to make ground for it
so that it can make
its full presence known."
She calls her story: a wise tale about that which can never die. I cannot speak for you (and I know that our stories and our scars are uniquely our own) yet I have experienced a hope and a resilience in myself that seems immortal. During the rest of this Lenten season perhaps we could take some time to ponder and pray about what gift we have that is waiting to make its full presence known. How do we need to prepare the soil of our hearts
so that a new presence can be born in our lives? What do you need to make ground for? You've heard of 'breaking ground' and ordinarily that means something new is rising. Happy Ground Breaking!
Resilience is part of our name. It is the word I am trying to celebrate during the month of March. It's been a long hard winter for many of us and for some there is still no sight of Spring. The ravished land is a marvelous metaphor for what happens in the human spirit. There are times when what seemed to be blossoming in us comes to a halt and remains frozen, yet beautiful. How can we trust that the winter of grief in our lives, the deep containers of doubt, the mountains of discouragement can all become teachers for us. Somewhere in the heart of everything is a resilience that wants to lift its face, lift its voice-- and sing its way out of the frozen land of our lives. AND IT WILL!
YES, IT WILL! It has its own time. It will blossom again! And part of the fertilizer we must bring to it is our belief in it. The crocus and the shooting-star that you see here are icons of your own resilient spirit. I invite you to own and honor that often invisible face of yourself. Whether you fully understand this truth or not, you have an amazing rising power in you. Resilience is your inner guest.
In case you don’t know the poet, Ted Kooser, I would like to
introduce you to him. He was born in
Iowa and now lives in Nebraska. Go to his official website; Ted KooserIf
you like poetry you won’t be disappointed.And if you think you don’t like poetry, you may be pleasantly surprised.
The poem below is one that I love. It is from his book, Delights and Shadows. Try to
see the poem as you read it.
A Rainy Morning
A young woman in a wheelchair,
wearing a black nylon poncho spattered with rain,
is pushing herself through the morning.
You have seen how pianists
sometimes bend forward to strike the keys,
then lift their hands, draw back to rest,
then lean again to strike just as the chord fades.
Such is the way this woman
strikes at the wheels, then lifts her long white fingers,
letting them float, then bends again to strike
just as the chair slows, as if into a silence.
So expertly she plays the chords
of this difficult music she has mastered,
her wet face beautiful in its concentration,
while the wind turns the pages of rain.
One sentence from the poem that lingers with me is this: “So expertly she plays the chords/ of this
difficult music she has mastered.” The words,
“difficult music” linger in my heart. I am in awe of the courage of
so many people (you may be among them) who are daily mastering the “difficult
music” of their lives. I am constantly amazed at the courage portrayed in people's lives. That same courage is in each of us. And so, to discover it!
Sometimes just sitting with a poem can be a prayer. As you sit with this poem, bring to your mind people you know
who are struggling with the “difficult music” of their lives.
Those of you who have my 2014 calendar will know that WISDOM is the word I chose for us to focus on for the month of February. It would, of course, be a wonderful gift for us to be conscious of at any moment of the day. Wisdom need not be something we think about only on Pentecost though many of us will recognize it as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I chose wisdom for February because here in Arkansas it is a time when (especially toward the end of the month) we are likely to see little faces of green growing things trying to lift their faces out of the frozen earth.
This miracle of life pushing through what looks like death is
beautifully metaphoric for our lives. It is valuable to remember that in our
desperate/lonely moments when no teacher is in sight, there is always a teacher
within. Are we able to learn the
patience of waiting beside the sorrow? Waiting
with the sorrow? Can we sit with the
death we are experiencing and just listen to the wound? Life is a wisdom school, yet there are times when we have to do our grief
work before the wisdom shows her face.
Spend some time getting acquainted with your inner teacher. What pieces of wisdom will you gather during the month of February? Wisdom is knocking at your door!
Here is a small wisdom poem I wrote many
Again and again
the words washed over my soul
bathing me in truth.
-words from Terry Tempest Williams: "The most radical thing you can do is to stay where you are."
[..and by those words I do not believe she is asking us not to grow;
or to remain in our sorrow forever; we must take the words deeper.
Eat them. Taste the wisdom within. Live with them for a few days.
I think she is referring to our modern day restlessness that takes us
away from the wisdom of NOW]
My restless, wandering spirit
stood beside those words for days.
Ate them for dessert
went to bed with them at night
and rose with the taste of them in my heart.
And what about you?
Where are the words that linger?
What have you discovered in the middle of your living that could serve as a resource for your own wisdom poem?
At the end of the day ask yourself this question: What pieces of wisdom from this day's journey, linger?
This week on January 23 St. Scholastica Monastery celebrated the 135th anniversary of our Benedictine community in Arkansas. The little log cabin below is actually a cake which is a replica of the original log cabin in New Blaine Arkansas which was, at that time, our founding site. As I look at the cabin I realize that I am looking at history. I hear echos of the stories of our founding Sisters. As we enjoyed the cake at our evening meal January 23 I was so aware that when our Sisters entered that cabin they had no cake. Indeed they had very little, the bare essentials and not even that.
I want to hold on to the word, ESSENTIAL, for a little while. Ever since our Founding Day Celebration I've been praying with that word and trying to discern just what is essential in my life. In no way am I implying that we should live in destitution yet I do have concerns with how distracted my life can become in regard to the truly important ingredients of each day. How can I simplify my life in small ways that truly matter each day? How can I do a slow dance with only the essential? For indeed, when I make friends with that which is essential I see everything with new eyes. For example, beauty is essential and it is all around me. Sometimes when I stop my restless pacing, I see the beauty that I pass by every day because I'm looking for something else, something better, more profound or elaborate.... These musings reminded me of a poetic reflection I wrote many years ago. I named it DECORATIONS.
"In our search for the holy, there are times when our restless preparations smother the very truth for which we are searching. We decorate our rooms and make elaborate preparations for our prayer, when a single flower ...
......and a moment of waiting
are all we need to meet the One Who Comes.
In our restlessness, our search
sometimes becomes the only god we every meet.
My days are all spent
in decorating my house.
I am forever preparing
for your arrival.
I hunger for your presence
yet I take not the time
to wait for your coming
and to my great sorrow
you never arrive.
It is because I refuse
to be silent
that I cannot hear you.
It is because I refuse
to await you
that you cannot come.
It is because I refuse
to be idle
that I cannot enjoy you.
It because I am too busy
that I cannot welcome you home.
Yet in your deep wisdom
your presence leans toward mine.
You understand my decorations
to be symbols of my hunger
and you know of the day
when my heart swept clean
will be the only decoration needed
and I will listen for you coming
like night awaiting day.
Seasons of Your Heart, HarperSanFrancisco
And now back to our beginning question:
What is essential?
What will you dance with this week?
List a few things/people/experiences that are essential for you to live a happy life.
No matter how much we cry out to God, "Be thou my vision..." there are times when it will seem as though our lamp has gone out. Any kind of vision that we hoped would light our way has fled and we are left with a troubled heart. Even in these moments we can find a voice for prayer. Even if it is a sad and lonely prayer, let us dare to let God hear our voice.
Lamp of God Gone Out ~ Where art thou?
Once there was a sweet innocence that lived in the garden of my heart and you were my Epiphany Star; you were my clarity, amazing gift of my life.
Your presence was obvious in the pages of each day. Reflecting on our original relationship I perceive that it was vibrant and alive with
possibilities and meaning. I remember how you helped me claim my
authentic spirit. From childhood days I had such a longing for
authenticity and you were my coach, my star, my gate, my lean-to.
Give me back the sweet innocence of childhood along with the gifted wisdom of
my maturing years. I am firm in my resolution that you are still the Lamp
of my Life and I boldly ask you to shine through the stark and seeming barren
branches of my life--all the way through to the Epiphany Star that is still
shining in the core of my being. Amen from Macrina